Sunday, December 16, 2012

ComboBox Gotchas

This is pretty well-known for experienced Windows Forms developers, but I still see the problem frequently asked about on the forums. Typically, the questions will be something like:

  1. “Every time I make a different selection from my ComboBox, the row in my grid changes.”
  2. “I have two ComboBoxes on my Form, but they’re in sync. Every time a selection is made in  one, the selection changes in the other.”

So, what is it that they’re doing wrong? Well, the DataSource of a ComboBox cannot be in use by any other databound control on the Form … unless, of course, your intention is to use the ComboBox for navigation … but then, you wouldn’t be asking these questions!

It doesn’t matter if you are using an actual DataTable for your Combo’s DataSource, or if you’re using a BindingSource, the bottom line is that you cannot use the same object to databind other controls. How about a few illustrative examples, first with DataTable and then with BindingSource? In my scenario, I’ll use 3 controls, a DataGridview, a TextBox and a ComboBox. I want the DataGridView and the TextBox to be in sync. When I move through the grid, the value in the TextBox changes accordingly. The ComboBox, on the other hand, should behave independently.

Using DataTables as DataSource

First, let’s set up the databinding for the grid and textbox:

this.dataGridView1.DataSource = this.dtMyTable;
this.txtLastName.DataBindings.Add("Text", this.dtMyTable, "Code");

And now, in order to see how NOT TO bind the ComboBox, try the following code and notice what happens! 

// As we now know, by setting the ComboBox.DataSource to a DataTable that's already bound elsewhere
// moving through the Combo also affects the bound textbox and the grid. This is BAD CODE!!
this.cboDescription.DisplayMember = "Description";
this.cboDescription.DataSource = this.dtMyTable;

Well, ok, it’s bad. What can we do instead? We have two choices:

// Setting the DataSource to a DataView of the same DataTable works just fine
DataView dv = new DataView(this.dtMyTable);
this.cboDescription.DisplayMember = "Description";
this.cboDescription.DataSource = dv;


// We could use a Copy of the original DataTable
this.cboDescription.DisplayMember = "Description";
this.cboDescription.DataSource = this.dtMyTable.Copy();

Either way gives you the correct results: when the user changes the selection in the Combo,  nothing at all happens to the grid or textbox.

Using BindingSources as DataSource

Getting the same results using BindingSources is similar. First, set up the binding of the grid and textbox:

BindingSource bs = new BindingSource();
bs.DataSource = this.dtMyTable;
this.txtLastName.DataBindings.Add("Text", bs, "Code");
this.dataGridView1.DataSource = bs;

And again, in order to see how NOT TO bind the ComboBox, try the following code and notice what happens!

// Now the Combo DataSource: As expected, using the same BindingSource doesn't work. BAD CODE
this.cboDescription.DisplayMember = "Description";
this.cboDescription.DataSource = bs;

And what can we do instead?

// A new BindingSource works fine
this.cboDescription.DataSource = new BindingSource(this.dtMyTables, null);

And here’s an interesting one to try:

// A new BindingSource based on the old BindingSource
// Yep! This one works too!
this.cboDescription.DataSource = new BindingSource(bs, null);

Binding the ComboBox

Now, there’s one more thing I’d like to explore. What do you code if you need to have the SelectedValue of the ComboBox be tied to the what’s being displayed in the grid (or perhaps elsewhere, say maybe a label). Previously, we have only set the Combo’s DataSource, but this doesn’t do anything with whatever the user has selected from the Combo. So now we want to databind it, as we’ve databound the grid and the textbox. Let’s say we have another control, a label, and we want it to reflect the chosen Description in the ComboBox. We’d need to bind the label and Combo to the same thing.

// Using the DataTable:
this.lblDescription.DataBindings.Add("Text", this.dtMyTable, "Description");
this.cboDescription.DataBindings.Add("SelectedValue", this.dtMyTable, "Description");

// Or, using the BindingSource instead:
this.lblDescription.DataBindings.Add("Text", bs, "Description");
this.cboDescription.DataBindings.Add("SelectedValue", bs, "Description");

Try either methodology. Select an item from the Combo and notice that the label changes to reflect that selection. Then, move between rows in the grid. You should notice the label changes then too. When on a different row in the grid, change the selection of the Combo again. When moving back and forth between rows in the grid, notice that the ones you changed with the Combo selection remain at that new value.